NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) 20050156631: A Survey of Formal Methods for Intelligent Swarms
Publication date 2004-12-14
Topics NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS), AUTONOMY, FORMALISM, NASA SPACE PROGRAMS, NANOTECHNOLOGY, SPACECRAFT DESIGN, SURVEYS, PROGRAM VERIFICATION (COMPUTERS), ASTEROID BELTS, CHEMICAL COMPOSITION, EARTH ORBITS, BANDWIDTH, SPACE EXPLORATION, MINERALS, MORPHOLOGY, SIMULATION, INSECTS, Truszkowski, Walt, Rash, James, Hinchey, Mike, Rouff, Chrustopher A.,
Swarms of intelligent autonomous spacecraft, involving complex behaviors and interactions, are being proposed for future space exploration missions. Such missions provide greater flexibility and offer the possibility of gathering more science data than traditional single spacecraft missions. The emergent properties of swarms make these missions powerful, but simultaneously far more difficult to design, and to assure that the proper behaviors will emerge. These missions are also considerably more complex than previous types of missions, and NASA, like other organizations, has little experience in developing or in verifying and validating these types of missions. A significant challenge when verifying and validating swarms of intelligent interacting agents is how to determine that the possible exponential interactions and emergent behaviors are producing the desired results. Assuring correct behavior and interactions of swarms will be critical to mission success. The Autonomous Nano Technology Swarm (ANTS) mission is an example of one of the swarm types of missions NASA is considering. The ANTS mission will use a swarm of picospacecraft that will fly from Earth orbit to the Asteroid Belt. Using an insect colony analogy, ANTS will be composed of specialized workers for asteroid exploration. Exploration would consist of cataloguing the mass, density, morphology, and chemical composition of the asteroids, including any anomalous concentrations of specific minerals. To perform this task, ANTS would carry miniaturized instruments, such as imagers, spectrometers, and detectors. Since ANTS and other similar missions are going to consist of autonomous spacecraft that may be out of contact with the earth for extended periods of time, and have low bandwidths due to weight constraints, it will be difficult to observe improper behavior and to correct any errors after launch. Providing V&V (verification and validation) for this type of mission is new to NASA, and represents the cutting edge in system correctness, and requires higher levels of assurance than other (traditional) missions that use a single or small number of spacecraft that are deterministic in nature and have near continuous communication access. One of the highest possible levels of assurance comes from the application of formal methods. Formal methods are mathematics-based tools and techniques for specifying and verifying (software and hardware) systems. They are particularly useful for specifying complex parallel systems, such as exemplified by the ANTS mission, where the entire system is difficult for a single person to fully understand, a problem that is multiplied with multiple developers. Once written, a formal specification can be used to prove properties of a system (e.g., the underlying system will go from one state to another or not into a specific state) and check for particular types of errors (e.g., race or livelock conditions). A formal specification can also be used as input to a model checker for further validation. This report gives the results of a survey of formal methods techniques for verification and validation of space missions that use swarm technology. Multiple formal methods were evaluated to determine their effectiveness in modeling and assuring the behavior of swarms of spacecraft using the ANTS mission as an example system. This report is the first result of the project to determine formal approaches that are promising for formally specifying swarm-based systems. From this survey, the most promising approaches were selected and are discussed relative to their possible application to the ANTS mission. Future work will include the application of an integrated approach, based on the selected approaches identified in this report, to the formal specification of the ANTS mission.
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